Whether they are being used to listen to music or to join a conference call, the use of headphones is a common part of many peoples’ days, but despite their frequent use, many people do not realize the negative effects that improper headphone use can have on our ears. Did you know that they can increase the level of bacteria inside the ear by up to 700%?
Studies have shown a direct link between headphone use and an increased risk of ear infection. According to a study conducted by MANIPAL Academy of Higher Education, “Frequent and constant use of earphones increases the bacterial growth in the ear.” The reason for this increase in bacteria is due to the fact that the headphones cover your ears from the external air, essentially trapping bacteria from the surface of the headphones (as well as any other bacteria your ear may have been exposed to) inside. Additionally, while the moisture inside of your ears typically evaporates over the course of the day, headphones lock in this moisture instead. This leads to extra moist, warm conditions inside the ear that provide the perfect place for bacteria to multiply, which can increase the risk of getting an infection. It is crucial to remember this during times when we produce more sweat, such as during summer, while exercising, and in warm weather conditions.
However, there are ways to minimize the risk of ear infections by practicing proper headphone use. One effective way to cut down on the amount of bacteria that you are putting inside your ear is simply by cleaning your headphones before using them. You should wipe down your headphone earpads or earbuds tips with a lightly damp cloth at least once a week. A simple way to do this is to wipe them down with a disinfectant such as rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer, preferably directly before each use. If the headphones are over the ear headphones, it is recommended to remove the pad coverings and thoroughly wipe them down with a damp cloth, soap, and water. Then, leave them to dry completely.
Additionally, avoiding prolonged headphone usage is important in order to give your ears time to breathe, as well as to allow for the evaporation of any excess moisture inside them. Finally, it is good practice not to share your headphones with others, and if you do choose to share, it is best to disinfect the headphones directly before use, as well as directly after.
It is important to remember that our ears are designed to clean themselves; however, headphone use can introduce bacteria levels to your ears that they are not used to accounting for. If you are experiencing any level of pain inside your ears (after headphone use, or otherwise), it is always best to consult an audiologist to get to the root of the problem and receive the care you need.